The University of Portland’s [Oregon] student newspaper The Beacon offered an example of transparency to readers last month.
In a story on college students taking Adderall, “Drugged For Success,” the Beacon disclosed to readers why it decided to “make exceptions” to its policy on anonymous sources.
In this case, the Beacon argued it was in “the public benefit” to use anonymous sources to report what it found to be a “public health issue.” The note posted atop the story explained:
“Editor’s note: The Beacon has a policy to generally avoid the use of anonymous sources because we believe that our readers are entitled to know the identities of sources of information so they can evaluate their credibility.
“We may make exceptions when we believe the public benefit of publishing a story that could best be told only with an anonymous source or sources outweighs the value of the policy.
“In this case, we decided that because the story of student use of Adderall illuminates a public health issue, we would grant anonymity and the pseudonyms ‘Tom’ and ‘Mary’ to the students who spoke to us for this story. We do not make this exception lightly, but with the hope it will spark awareness and constructive discussion about the use of Adderall.”
The Beacon’s news editor Laura Frazier told iMediaEthics by email that the paper has a practice to explain why it uses anonymous sources each time. Frazier wrote:
“If the Beacon uses anonymous sources, we always include a note for readers. We want to be open and clear about all of our policies, including why we don’t typically use anonymous sources in the first place, and transparent when we decide to make exceptions. I think readers trust a publication more when the editors are open about why some decisions were made. As an editor and reporter, I try to be as professional as possible, and to me that includes making it clear if we decide to change, amend, or make an exception to a policy. “